I’m a woman in my 30s. I love parties and talking to people — and thank God, because I attend networking events for work. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is an introvert, hates talking to strangers, and loathes “shindigs.” How do we balance my longing to go to parties with his desire to stay home?
— Party Girl
Taking an introvert to a party can be a challenge. On the other hand, if it’s a Fourth of July party, you know where to find him: hiding in the bathtub with the dogs.
I actually have personal experience in this area. Like you, I’m an extrovert — which is to say a party host’s worry isn’t that I won’t have anyone to talk to, it’s that I’ll tackle three people and waterboard them with sangria till they tell me their life story. Also like you, I have a boyfriend who’s an introvert. For him, attending a party is like being shoved into an open grave teeming with live cockroaches — though, compassionately, it also includes an open bar.
This isn’t to say introverts are dysfunctional. They’re not. They’re differently functional.
Brain imaging research by cognitive scientist Debra L. Johnson and her colleagues found that in introverts, sensory input from experience led to more blood flow in the brain (amounting to more stimulation). The path it took was longer and twistier than in extroverts and had a different destination: frontal areas we use for inward thinking like planning, remembering and problem-solving. So, introverts live it up, too; they just do it on the inside.
Extroverts’ brain scans revealed a more direct path for stimuli — with blood flowing straight to rear areas of the brain used for sensory processing, like listening and touching. They also have less overall blood flow, translating (in combination with a different neurochemical response) to a need for more social hoo-ha to feel “fed.”
Sometimes, you’ll really want your boyfriend there with you at a party — for support, because you enjoy his company, or maybe just to show him off (kind of like a Louis Vuitton handbag with a penis). But understanding that “shindigs” give his brain a beating, consider whether you could sometimes take a friend. When he accompanies you, maybe set a time limit and be understanding if he and the dog retreat to the den.
Sure, mingling makes you feel better, but pushing an introvert to do it is akin to forcing an extrovert to spend an entire week with only the cat and a fern. Before long, they’re on with the cable company. Tech support: “What seems to be the problem?” Extrovert: “I’m lonely! Talk to me! Have you ever been arrested? Do you think I should go gluten-free?”
I grabbed my boyfriend’s phone to look something up, and I found a Google search for local massage places that offer “happy endings.” He says that he and his friends were just goofing off. Am I an idiot to believe him?
His “goofing off” is reminiscent of the “but I was just curious!” web searches that juries hear about — stuff like: “Does arsenic have a flavor?” “How much antifreeze does it take to kill a 226.5-pound man?” “Who’s got the lowest prices on shovels and tarps?”
Sure, it’s POSSIBLE that your boyfriend is telling the truth — that he and his buddies were searching out massage parlors RIGHT NEARBY! just for a giggle. To determine how likely it actually is, consider that people don’t behave randomly. We’re each driven by a varying combo of personality traits — habitual patterns of thinking, emotion and behavior that are relatively consistent over time and across situations. For example, an introvert will not suddenly become a party animal (unless we’re talking the taxidermied kind that’s stuck into the “fall leaves” centerpiece).
Research by evolutionary psychologists David Buss and Todd Shackelford found three personality traits that are strong “predictors of susceptibility to infidelity.” One is narcissism: being self-absorbed, admiration-seeking, empathy-deficient and prone to scheming user-hood. Being low on “conscientiousness” is another — reflected in being disorganized, unreliable and lazy, and lacking self-control. Last, there’s “psychoticism,” which, despite its Bates Motel-like moniker, reflects a con artist-like exploitativeness, impulsivity and lack of inhibition — not necessarily exhibiting those things while going all stabby on some lady enjoying a shower.
Consider whether your boyfriend’s “just Googling for kicks!” claim is odd and uncharacteristic or whether it’s part of a pattern reflecting one or more of the lovely cocktail of traits above. Patterns of behavior predict future patterns of behavior — for example, trying to get you to believe that he only goes to strip clubs for the music and that he really was just working late with his boss, who seems to have developed quite a thing for body glitter.
Got a problem? Write to Amy Alkon at 171 Pier Ave., Ste. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email her at AdviceAmy@aol.com.
Alkon’s latest book is “Good Manners for Nice People who Sometimes Say F*ck.” She blogs at advicegoddess.com and podcasts at blogtalkradio.com.